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Is Your Team Disengaged? 5 Warning Signs to Look Out For

The new year brings with it a sense of excitement and possibility. The prospect of 12 months to tick off our freshly-made ambitions can be invigorating. But as we roll ...

Is Your Team Disengaged? 5 Warning Signs to Look Out For

The new year brings with it a sense of excitement and possibility. The prospect of 12 months to tick off our freshly-made ambitions can be invigorating. But as we roll over into February, does your team feel a little, well, dejected?

After two years of upheaval and uncertainty, it’s no wonder that feelings of optimism and ambition might be hampered. What’s more, with the spread of Omicron raging through Australia and New Zealand the hope of moving beyond a life dominated by COVID-related news seems unlikely anytime soon.

The first three months of the year tend to bring higher than average levels of job hopping and thanks to the talent-short market in A/NZ, the trend is likely to be even more acute in 2022. That’s why it’s critical for managers to monitor engagement levels among their teams and put initiatives in place to keep morale high.

How much does disengagement cost a business?

The stats are eye-watering. On a global scale, 2021 research from Gallup [1] estimates that 80% of the workforce is not engaged or actively disengaged at work. In dollar figures, this lack of engagement is estimated to cost the global economy US$8.1 trillion in lost productivity each year.

To give you an idea of how much it’s costing your business, Gallup estimates that a disengaged employee costs a business an average of 34% of their salary.

Besides the quantifiable cost of lost productivity, disengaged employees also have a negative impact on innovation and morale, and can potentially undermine the work of their colleagues. It can damage relationships with clients, as well as harm the brand’s reputation in the marketplace. As a customer, there’s nothing worse than being served by an employee who simply doesn’t care.

Disengaged employees are also far more likely to jump ship. As HR leaders only know too well, recruitment is costly – especially given the talent crunch in A/NZ right now. ELMO’s 2021 HR Industry Benchmark Report found that on average, it takes 29 days to fill vacant positions at the mid-level contributor level, with that figure rising to 45 days for senior-level managers. The average cost to hire a new employee is $10,500, but this cost doubles for C-level executives. The lesson? Don’t overlook engagement.

What signs of disengagement should managers look out for?

5 warning signs that your employee is becoming disengaged

Sloppy work

It’s only human to make mistakes from time to time but consistently sloppy work is a sign that engagement might be slipping. It could be faults in the final product, errors in reports, missed deadlines, poor customer service, or a sales opportunity that was not followed up. Look out for behaviours that indicate complacency and a lack of care or effort, and make sure to address them sooner rather than later. But rather than simply pulling employees up on these kinds of mistakes, open a dialogue and find out the cause. Is it a lack of training? Perhaps it’s a rostering issue or family health-related concern? The key for managers is to have open, honest conversations with team members.


We all have different styles of communication. Some extroverted employees are high-energy and vocal, while others prefer to operate outside of the spotlight. But what’s important is for managers to be attuned to changes in communication style. That’s a skill that has become more difficult thanks to Zoom calls and virtual meet-ups. Some people simply don’t feel confident on camera and prefer in-person.

However, managers can still be cognizant of signs an employee is withdrawing. For example, they keep their camera turned off during meetings, they appear closed off to conversation or they choose not to contribute despite being prompted. Essentially, it’s a feeling that an employee is cutting the social ties that usually bond co-workers together.

Emotional attachment is an intrinsic driver of why we show up to work day after day and when times get tough, it’s often the thing that keeps us coming back.


It’s worth pointing out that increased absenteeism doesn’t necessarily mean an employee has become disengaged. There may be a whole host of other things going on. But, if you’re noticing an increase in sick leave or annual leave, it might be time to check in with your employee and find out how they’re feeling about work.

At an organisational level, above-average levels of absenteeism are a concern. Roll out an engagement survey to get a read on how employees are coping and their current challenges. Use this data to take informed, targeted action.

ELMO Survey enables organisations to conduct and manage staff surveys throughout all points of the employee lifecycle to gain actionable insights into your employees’ attitudes and opinions towards work.

A negative attitude

We all go through periods of feeling like the glass is half empty rather than half full. But a persistently negative attitude is a red flag for disengagement. Similarly, a cynical view of new ideas or the prediction that something will fail before it’s begun are signs that an employee’s engagement has dropped. Disengaged employees may also become more easily frustrated, particularly when collaborating with others.

Remember, that doesn’t mean an astute manager can’t turn things around. It’s important to act quickly by having a conversation about why the employee feels that way and investigating how their enthusiasm can be reignited.

Read more: How to Develop and Retain Your Top Performers

Voicing concerns

This isn’t necessarily a sign they’ve submerged fully into a disengaged mindset but if managers fail to hear employees’ concerns, they’re likely to feel ignored. Voicing concerns could well be a pre-cursor to them becoming disengaged if it falls on deaf ears.

That doesn’t mean accommodating every suggestion but it does require managers to at least listen and try to understand where their employee is coming from. Perhaps there’s a better solution you can come to together, solving the issue and making your employee feel heard. Win-win!

Every employee will have periods of disengagement at some point – it’s inevitable. Engagement, like life, will go up and down, bringing moments when we love what we do, and others when we question why. The most successful managers are those who know their people and work to prevent disengagement before it happens.

ELMO Software  is a cloud-based solution that helps thousands of organisations across Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom to effectively manage their people, process and pay. ELMO solutions span the entire employee lifecycle from ‘hire to retire’. They can be used together or stand-alone, and are configurable according to an organisation’s unique processes and workflows. Automate and streamline your operations to reduce costs, increase efficiency and bolster productivity. For further information, contact us.

[1] State of the Global Workplace 2021 Report, Gallup, 2021